I know I only just posted a Writer’s Room vlog, but sometimes more needs to be said.
First…yay for Joss Whedon snagging Summer Glau for at least a couple of eps of Dollhouse (starting episode 5). Those two names, when put together, just make me smile.
Second…I wasn’t aware that my link to the Sarah Connor Society website had been broken for a while. Oops. Sorry about that. It’s fixed, now.
Third…Josh Friedman posted a new guest blog over at IO9 (The Questions You Shouldn’t Answer, And The Answers You Can’t Let Go Of). A lot of what he says is exactly right. After all, the collaborative process isn’t often a conflict-free process. Mostly it’s about trying to stamp out as many fires as you can before the next one flares up. But one section caught my eye, where he talks about an exchange he had with an executive about the scene in S0222 “Born to Run” where John is feeling-up Cameron’s power core.
EXECUTIVE: I don’t get that scene.
ME: How so?
EXECUTIVE: I just don’t get it. Why does she do that? Why does he do it? Was he going to kiss her? Does she want him to? What does she really want from him here?
ME: Well, we’ve got a lot of different possibilities. I’m sure she has her reasons. We don’t really know Cameron’s mind, do we?
EXECUTIVE: Shouldn’t we know it?
Heaven help me…I’m actually in agreement with the executive. And Josh, too, a little, but mostly the executive. See…after a while, we writers aren’t the creators of character, just the custodians. They start doing what they want to do with little input from us. Even so, I feel that if you don’t take time to find out from your characters (off the record, if need be) what their motivations were, then you are doing a disservice–to the audience, yes, but mostly to the writer. You see, these characters will go on. You need to know where they think they are headed. That’s character-oriented writing.
But it’s also a difference in writing philosophies. Josh writes:
Now whether you want to believe it or not, this was not me just being lazy. This is the way that I like my drama, both written and watched-organic, ambiguous, a little messy and inclusive of multiple interpretations.
Which, I grant you, on a bad day is barely distinguishable from lazy.
Again, I’m both pro and con with this. You’ve seen in The Connor Wars scripts that I’m not at all shy about making things ambiguous for the audience. Truthfully, some events (like whether John or Skynet wins the war) are ambiguous to me. But, when I need to write about an event, I take ownership of it. I MUST know the answers even if I don’t tell you all.
Because the characters, from their own points of view, have their own histories and expectations. Just because they seem ambiguous to others doesn’t mean they are ambiguous to the characters themselves. The characters (and the writer) need to know where they stand because it informs their actions in the future. It’s sort of the writing equivalent of the “butterfly effect”.
For example, in that scene Josh references, both Cameron and John can feel conflicted about whether or not carnal desires are there and/or should be acted on. But IRL, neither character would be ambiguous about it. IRL with real people, though we are often conflicted, we always have a preference for how something will work out, and we always have reasons (even if they are dumb ones) for every choice we make. Ambiguous means the equivalent of “vapor lock”, and that generally only happens in catastrophically traumatic situations.
In some ways I have to thank Josh. If/when John and Cameron reunite in The Connor Wars, clearly this will have to be addressed. It’s definitely ones of those unanswered questions that’s begging for an answer.
I encourage you to read Josh’s article.